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At men’s Night Doubles, it’s a ‘privilege to play’

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Night Doubles began at Kailua Racquet Club a year before Kendall Char won the 1972 state high school tennis championship.

The ‘Iolani graduate would come to own it, winning his first title in 1976 with Rick Fried, then coming back from college and the satellite tour to capture five more from 1979 to ’84 with former KRC pro Peter Isaak.

After 40 years, Hawaii’s entire tennis community has taken ownership of what is now known as the Blue Moon Men’s Night Doubles Championship.

Its main draw begins tomorrow. Nearly 50 teams tried to claw their way in during this week’s qualifying, watched by crowds — a concept Hawaii tennis hardly knows — that will now grow each night.

For the final next Saturday, KRC’s centre court stands will be clogged with people watching and partying. And people watching people party.

As much fun as the spectators have, the players have more. When they finish, they grab a beverage and join the party.

40TH ANNUAL BLUE MOON MEN’S
NIGHT DOUBLES CHAMPIONSHIP

» What: Tennis
» When: Main draw begins tomorrow with final scheduled for next Saturday. Matches from 6 p.m. nightly except Thursday, which is a rain date.
» Where: Kailua Racquet Club
» Top seed: Defending champions Dennis Lajola and Ikaika Jobe
» Purse: $7,000
» Admission: Free (food and drink available for purchase)

"Playing tennis in front of a crowd — and it’s all about the crowd — and being so close to it …," says Char, who got a "real job" at Oceanic Time Warner Cable in 1984 and is now general sales manager. "It’s all about family there, really a privilege to play. They made us feel like pros. We had a dressing room, all the things you could imagine like on the satellite circuits and even for the big guys on the ATP Tour.

"It’s one of those tournaments where, when everything else is crumbling, this has been a testament to the membership of the club and those putting it on. Everybody looks forward to it. Even now. It overshadows state tournaments and everything else.

"We used to have a ton of tournaments, and they all went away. How did this little tournament in the heart of Kailua survive? … You don’t get that ambience anywhere else."

Char attributes it to the vision and flat-out hard work of the club’s members and managers. It also speaks to the level of play, and the unique spectator charms of doubles, which are often overlooked in the professional game.

The tournament attracts all of Hawaii’s finest players and consistently brings in others from the outer reaches of the pro game. Players from Senegal, China, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all over Europe have participated.

Ranked and, more often, formerly ranked players have served it up in an event so grounded that it used to appoint "helpers" whose sole duty was to keep the frogs off the court.

Despite its reach, Hawaii players have dominated. Local boys Dennis Lajola and Ikaika Jobe are defending champions. Char and Lahaina’s Ryan Ideta share the record with six titles apiece — Ideta accomplishing it with four partners. Fried, Mike Farrell and twins Henry and Jim Somerville also have dominated by decade.

Isaak, who died at age 38 of leukemia, was a three-time state high school champ for ‘Iolani. At 6 foot 1, he had a huge, world-class serve, but the rest of his game was all about finesse. Char was seven inches smaller and nicknamed "Popgun" because his serve was so much softer than his partner’s.

However, the little guy was the closer, crushing every ball he could chase down. They were almost impossible to beat in the early ’80s.

"Peter had this big old massive serve, and I was this little rat at the top of the net running around like crazy," recalled Char, who played just once more after Isaak died. "Peter was the touch finesse player other than his serve, and I was the finisher. … I hit harder, and I was smaller. It was just a balance thing."

That part hasn’t changed. The partners who complement each other always do best in Night Doubles. Char adds that coping with KRC’s varying winds and great night vision also are vital components of a winning team.

Enjoying loud, relatively large crowds also is critical.

"It really is just a privilege to play for the people," Char says. "Ask anybody else, during this time period if you are at all into tennis this is a social gathering. People put it on their calendar."

For 40 years and counting.

 

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